On Aug. 9th, recent high school graduate Michael Brown was days away from starting college when he was fatally shot six times by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The circumstances surrounding the altercation are still in question as the officer’s story of what happened verses other witnesses’ accounts do not quite match up. Because of this, there has been confusion and anger for answers within the community for the people that call Ferguson home.
From what has been reported, Michael Brown, 18, and Dorian Johnson, 22, were walking in the middle of local Canfield Drive when Officer Darren Wilson called out to them from his police vehicle at 12:01 pm to get out of the street or onto the sidewalk. The two young men told the officer that they were close to their destination and would be out of the street soon. From this point, a struggle ensued between Brown and Wilson (different accounts differ in how the struggle took place) through the police vehicle’s window, resulting in a gun being fired. After this, Brown and Johnson fled separately with Wilson pursuing Brown. Those who side with Wilson agree that Brown rushed at him, leading to the shots being fired after the officer told Brown to freeze. Other witnesses claim Brown, who was unarmed, raised his hands up to surrender and was unjustly fired at, ultimately leading to his death.
St. Lewis County Police Department’s Chief Jon Belmar held a news conference the following day explaining that Officer Wilson was physically assaulted by Brown, as reported by KSDK.com, leading to the struggle inside the vehicle, the gun shot being fired from inside, and the shooting outside the vehicle that ultimately killed the unarmed teenager. Other witnesses detest these claims and believe that the officer was responsible for shooting Brown, who from Johnson’s account and a few others who have come forward, willingly surrendered to the officer with his hands up.
Directly after the shooting, non-violent demonstrators, both black and white, quickly gathered at the scene of where the crime took place displayed their frustrations by holding their hands up or holding signs demanding justice, continuing clearly into the next day. Many of the makeshift signs had the phrase and/or a drawing of someone with their hands up that said “Hands up, don’t shoot” and others with such phrases as, “We Come In Peace To Fight for Justice” or “End Police Brutality,” while others fighting for Brown held signs such as “Justice for Mike Brown”.
A peaceful candlelight vigil was put together where Brown was shot, but later turned violent as people raided local businesses, defaced police vehicles, and rioted within the area. Police, who were already on scene amidst the peaceful protests, called for more backup and retaliated against the violence by dispersing tear gas, shooting rubber bullets, and even bringing in military-type equipment as defense.
As reported by CBS News, Mayor James Knowles stressed his frustrations of the violence to KTVI-TV, stating “the small group of people are creating a huge mess. Contributing to the unrest that is going on is not going to help…We’re only hurting ourselves, only hurting our community, hurting our neighbors.”
The shooting has sparked public outrage over the incident, as many feel that it originated with race, seeing that the Ferguson suburb, which is largely African-American, has felt purposely targeted by the police for some time. Because of this, many feel that the shooting of Brown is possibly rooted in the history of the relationship between Ferguson and the police department, seeing that the crime involves a black teenager and a white officer.
Kyle Borders, 26, who is African-American and lives in Ferguson, was interviewed by CBSnews.com. He describes his experiences being pulled over the course of three years by Ferguson police officers without ever being ticketed and how he felt. “Sometimes you just get tired of it. The first question is, ‘Do you have any guns, do you have any drugs, anything of that nature?’ I am like ‘sir, I don’t have a record. I have never been in trouble.’”
Alice Singen, who also lives in Ferguson and is Caucasian, expressed her concern over the racial issues within the community that she calls home to the Chicago Tribune, stating, “I didn’t have any problems with anybody or any color, and all of a sudden it feels like we are being held responsible for something that’s not our fault.”
President Obama addressed the nation shortly after the incident and the progression of events in the aftermath as reported by Politico, stating “Now is the time for peace and calm on the streets of Ferguson. Now is the time for an open and transparent process to see that justice is done.” Obama commented further, stating “There is never an excuse for violence against the police or for those who would use this tragedy as a cover for vandalism or looting. There is also no excuse for police to use excessive force against peaceful protests or to throw protestors in jail for lawfully expressing their First Amendment rights.”
As the conflicts within the city of Ferguson continue to occur, its residents still seek answers and solutions. One thing certain is that violence will never be the resolution to any conflict, but only when true understanding is achieved between man to man.